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RNS
By Gwen Filosa and John Pope
New Orleans — Closing one of the most sensational chapters in post-Katrina New Orleans, Dr. Anna Pou said she fell to her knees and thanked God when she learned Tuesday (July 24) that a grand jury had refused to charge her with murdering patients in Memorial Medical Center in the days after the hurricane struck.
Speaking in a voice choked with emotion, Pou did not smile or gloat over the end of an ordeal that began when she and two nurses were arrested a year ago.
“This is not a triumph, but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm and those who stayed at their posts to serve those in need,” she said.
Pou still faces four civil suits in connection with the deaths, but her colleagues cheered the end of the criminal case. So did the Louisiana State Medical Society and the American Medical Association, both of which issued statements saying Pou, who never was charged in the deaths, should not have been arrested.
Pou “courageously performed her duties as a physician under the most challenging and horrific conditions,” the state society said in a statement. “The decisions she made were in the best interests of the patients.”
Arrested with Pou, a head and neck surgeon who specializes in reconstructive surgery, were nurses Cheri Landry and Lori Budo. State Attorney General Charles Foti accused the three of murder in the deaths of nine patients in LifeCare Hospital, a section of the Uptown medical center reserved for frail patients.
Foti, who contended the three had administered lethal injections of painkillers and sedatives, turned over the case to Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan. The grand jury was sworn in in March, but Jordan said he did not start presenting the case until May.
Originally, the three women were accused of killing four patients, but that number grew to nine. Thirty-four patients were reported to have died before the hospital was evacuated.
Landry and Budo were given immunity in return for their grand jury testimony.
“I think justice has been served with due process,” Jordan said Tuesday. “I think the grand jury did the right thing. The grand jury considered all the evidence — carefully considered. They concluded no crime had been committed.”
Since the storm, Pou has worked at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Her boss, Dr. Daniel Nuss, who had recruited her, called the grand jury’s decision “a huge, huge leap forward.”
“Knowing the three people, I knew that the charges were egregious,” Nuss said.
Pou and the nurses were among the medical personnel on hand at Memorial Medical Center during and after Katrina. The eight-story, 317-bed facility became an island surrounded by 15 feet of floodwater. Although it was envisioned as a haven, the hospital lost electricity and became sweltering as the temperature inside hit 110 degrees.
The investigation elicited outrage from the New Orleans medical community, which organized a protest last week to mark the one-year anniversary of Pou’s arrest. More than 1,000 people showed up in support of Pou and the fragile health care system that is still recovering post-Katrina.
Memorial Medical Center has been closed since the storm, and it has a new name. The 81-year-old hospital, known for 67 years as Southern Baptist Hospital, was sold last year to the Ochsner medical empire and was renamed Ochsner Baptist Medical Center.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

RNS
by Adelle M. Banks
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of the humanistic stream of
Judaism, died Saturday (July 21) in an automobile accident.
Wine, 79, was vacationing in Morocco at the time.
Described by the Humanist chaplain of Harvard University as “the
greatest American religious leader you never heard of,” Wine founded the
movement of Humanistic Judaism in 1963 and the Society for Humanistic
Judaism in 1969. The society has more than 30 congregations and
communities led by rabbis or lay leaders in the U.S. and Israel.
Wine gained national attention when Time magazine featured his
fledgling congregation in 1965. More traditional Jewish leaders thought
he was leading a 1960s craze but the movement went on to have an
international federation and an institute that trains Humanist rabbis.
“He had a creative, new vision for what role religion and humanism
could play in American life,” said Greg Epstein, the Harvard chaplain,
who was trained by Wine.
A Detroit native, Wine was the founding rabbi of the Birmingham
Temple in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Mich. Like the
movement Wine led, the congregation celebrates Jewish culture but does
not link it to a belief in God.
“He created the idea of a congregation of proud atheists and
agnostics,” Epstein said. “He did that without acknowledging the moral
authority of any god. He did that with a nervy assertion that only human
beings can determine what the moral basis for an ethical community ought
to be.”
Epstein said Wine was an atheist who did not dwell on that
description.
“His focus was on being positive and talking about what he did
believe in,” Epstein said.
Wine was the author of several books, including “Humanistic
Judaism,” “Judaism Beyond God,” and “Staying Sane in a Crazy World.”
“Rabbi Wine was a visionary who created a Jewish home for so many of
us who would have been lost to Judaism,” said Rabbi Miriam S. Jerris,
president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

RNS
by Michelle Rindels
The Vatican is appealing to U.S. officials to commute the
death sentence of a Georgia man convicted of killing a police officer in
1989.
Saying that a number of key witnesses have recanted their
testimonies, the Vatican embassy in Washington sent a letter to Georgia
Gov. Sonny Perdue, requesting clemency for Troy Anthony Davis, 38.
“In the name of Pope Benedict XVI, I am respectfully asking you to
commute Troy’s sentence to life in prison without parole,” wrote Vatican
diplomat Monsignor Martin Krebs.
Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Mark MacPhail, a
Savannah police officer.
His execution was originally scheduled for Tuesday (July 17), but is
on hold while the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles weighs the case.
The board must rule by Oct. 14.
The Vatican is joined by civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John
Lewis, D-Ga., in petitioning for clemency for Davis.
“As a man of faith, I am sure I know what God wants you to do. Do
justice. Commute the sentence of Troy Anthony Davis,” Lewis said at a
clemency hearing last week.
While he was present at the scene of the murder, Davis says that he
wasn’t responsible for the murder. Seven witnesses have recanted or
contradicted testimony implicating him, according to Davis’ lawyers.
The Board of Pardons and Paroles has received thousands of letters
on Davis’ behalf. A representative said they will treat the Vatican’s
request like the others.
“The board has to base its decision on facts,” spokesman Scheree
Lipscomb told The Associated Press.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

RNS
by Omar Sacribey
Rizwan Kadir liked working in finance, but when he read a
verse in the Quran that said engaging in usury was the same as “waging
war” against God and Islam’s prophet Muhammad, fear struck him.
“When you come across an aya (verse) like this, it makes you start
wondering what you’re doing with your life,” said Kadir, an investment
banker in Chicago.
He started reading about Islamic views on interest and talking to
workers at Islamic banks that offered interest-free finance as a
foundation of their business.
Kadir eventually concluded that the prohibition on interest didn’t
jibe with Islamic logic and that the “interest free” arrangements touted
by Islamic banks were just usury under another name.
“What they’re doing is calling the same thing with a bunch of
different names,” said Kadir, who has a mortgage, auto and student loan
payments.
The prohibition on charging and paying interest is a cornerstone —
along with withholding investments from trades like alcohol and
pornography — of the rapidly emerging industry known as “Islamic
finance.”
There are some 270 Islamic banks with more than $265 billion in
assets, according to sponsors of the International Islamic Finance
Forum, a semi-annual industry conference that meets in Switzerland this
fall. Most of the banks are found in wealthy Muslim nations like Saudi
Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai and Malaysia. In addition, many Western banks,
such as industry giants Citibank and HSBC, have established Islamic
finance departments.
But a growing chorus of critics say the idea that Islamic law
forbids all forms of interest is incorrect. Moreover, they argue, some
of the bankers, lawyers and clerics who draw up and bless “interest
free” transactions are profiting off the pious with arrangements that
look a whole lot like usury.
Islamic scripture condemns riba, an Arabic word meaning “excess,”
which is commonly interpreted as usury. Some Islamic law scholars assert
that all interest is prohibited. Others say only excessive interest is
prohibited, and that interest is an indispensable part of society that a
logical God wouldn’t condemn.
“The notion that the spirit of the Quran is against modern forms of
interest, like on a mortgage or a consumer loan, this to me makes no
sense,” said Timur Kuran, chairman of Islamic studies at Duke
University.
Throughout history, interest was common in the Islamic world, in
places such as the Ottoman Empire, Kuran said. Controversy over the
practice only emerged during the 1940s when Indian Muslims cited the
need for an interest-free banking system as one reason they needed a
homeland separate from Indian Hindus, the scholar said.
Since then, the Islamic finance sector slowly developed, before
taking off in the last 20 years, with Islamic financial institutions
offering a growing number of transaction models, such as profit sharing,
that avoid interest.
One example is a “murabaha” mortgage. Say a Muslim family wants to
buy a home for $100,000. It might go to an Islamic bank, which would buy
the house and sell it to the family for $120,000. The family would then
have a certain amount of time to repay the bank. A similar practice was
common in medieval Europe when interest was prohibited by the Roman
Catholic Church.
Mahmoud El-Gamal, chair of the Islamic economics department at Rice
University, argues that such transactions amount to a “bait and switch.”
“The whole is, I want to lend but I don’t want to call interest,
`interest,”‘ said El-Gamal. Such transactions cost more than other
financial arrangements and hurt Muslim consumers, according to El-Gamal.
“They’re trapped because they’re told they’ll fry in hell if they go
to regular banks,” he said.
El-Gamal said obedience to the form of the contract often supersedes
the spirit of Islamic economic values, such as serving the poor.
Industry advocates counter that even if some financial transactions
serve the same purpose as interest that doesn’t mean they are forbidden
by Islam.
“It’s possible, as it is in many ethical and legal systems, for two
different actions to have the same outcome but because of the way
they’re done — for one to be wrong or illegal in that ethical or legal
system, and for the other to be permissible or lawful,” said Taha
Abdulbasser, an Islamic law scholar with the Islamic Finance Project at
Harvard Law School.
Hussan Qutub, a spokesman for Guidance Financial Group, an Islamic
bank based in Reston, Va., that offers interest-free mortgages, said
Islam draws a difference between monetary lending agreements and
agreements based on commodities.
“We’re trying to reach the same end result that other financial
organizations are trying to reach, which is putting people in homes,”
Qutub said. “But how are you going to get me there, that’s where we
differ.”
Skeptics like Kadir remain unconvinced. “For me, Islamic finance is
nothing more than affinity marketing, you market your services to
someone who you have an affinity with,” he said.

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of
this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written
permission.